Romance, inspiration in musical ‘Sense and Sensibility’

For years fans of Jane Austen’s works have clamored for more. They’ve read her books over and over again. Films based on her stories, “Pride and Prejudice,” “Sense and Sensibility,” “Emma,” “Becoming Jane,” “Mansfield Park” and more, have inspired and enthralled her fan base, which continues to grow with each new decade.

In association with the Chicago Shakespeare Theater (CST), The Old Globe Theatre is staging the West Coast premiere of Paul Gordon’s acclaimed new musical, “Sense and Sensibility.” CST founder and artistic director Barbara Gaines, who has helm-ed more than 30 Shakespearean productions, was quite willing to direct.

“Writer/composer Paul Gordon and I wanted to work together,” Gaines said. “We were supposed to work on ‘Emma’ a number of years ago, but someone else optioned it. Paul suggested we do ‘Sense and Sensibility,’ and I said ‘that’s perfect.’ Having read the book, it’s impossible not to love it, so we’ve been working on it for three or four years now. Jane Austen was a genius. We all love romance and her wit, and oft intensity for anything hypocritical. Her view of the world can easily fit into our world view today; we have the same problems and the same struggles.”

“Sense and Sensibility,” begins in the 1800s with the Dashwood sisters, Marianne (Megan McGinnis) and Elinor (Sharon Rietkerk), and brother John (David Schlumpf), having just lost their father. Making matters worse is the fact that John’s wife does not want his sisters in their house, which was bequeathed to John. The sisters leave on their own journeys of life and find surprising ups and downs. Moving the story from a play to a musical didn’t phase Gaines at all.

“It was a very small change,” she said. “Works by Shakespeare are very musical, too, so it was a very smooth transition for me. I’ve done several operas, and the Lyric Opera in Chicago. I love being around music, it makes me happy.”

The cast is huge, with most from the Chicago production, a few from California and a few from New York. Gaines said some of the characters were very easy to cast, others took a long time, but were worth the wait. The Globe production crew has made some minor changes to the Chicago show.

“Rick Boynton is the creative producer in charge of the theater of new classics, and this is a new classic by Jane Austen we’re putting music to,” Gaines said. “Rick is one of the best dramaturgs and producers, and he guides the show and the script until it’s ready to be performed. We had many workshops and brought in different actors to read the script. We removed some dialogue and added more. We tried different songs working with the musical team of Rick, musical supervisor Curtis Moore and music director Laura Bergquist.

“The musical is witty, funny, incredibly romantic and suspenseful,” Gaines said. “I was astounded that the Chicago production attracted as many men as women. Some of the men were crying along with the women! It doesn’t seem to matter what gender sees it, ‘Sense and Sensibility’ touches a deep part of us as it deals with the human heart. It’s everything you could ask for in a play, and people will leave the theater feeling overwhelmingly happy … and thankful.”

IF YOU GO: “Sense and Sensibility,” runs through Aug. 14 on the Shiley Stage at The Old Globe Theatre, 1363 Old Globe Way in Balboa Park, San Diego. Tickets from $39. (619) 234-5623.